Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
You can also find me on my blog.
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:11
Once again, even the title to Penman's novel is more brilliant than the entirety of some other novels. Henry Fitz Empress has the world at his feet. By the time he is the age most of us are thinking about completing college and getting a job, he rules England and more of what is now France than the French king. When beautiful and clever Eleanor adds her Aquitaine to his empire and herself to his bed, he has no reason to believe that he will not be the most successful ruler Europe has ever seen.
"But time and chance happen" to Henry in ways he arrogantly never expected. Taking for granted that those around him share his thoughts and goals, he makes one of his first life changing mistakes when he names Thomas Beckett the Archbishop of Canterbury. Beckett is one character that didn't quite click with me. It was difficult to determine his motivation. Some attempt is made to ensure the reader that he truly did have the Church's best interests at heart, but at times he seemed bent on tormenting Henry for no other purpose than to see him squirm. Who knows. The reader is left to decide for yourself what you think of Saint Thomas.
The story in Wales continues with Ranulf attempting to balance his loyalties to the land he has chosen and his nephew, the English king. When war is waged between the two, this becomes impossible. Thankfully, Ranulf has friends in high places on both sides of the border, so things always seem to work out for him somehow. I'm probably not quite as big a fan of Ranulf as other Penman fans seem to be, but I do enjoy the side-plot of the happenings in Wales especially to break up the formal church jargon of the Beckett chapters.
This book also covers what may have been Henry's biggest mistake: taking Rosamund Clifford as his mistress. Eleanor was reasonable but not willing to be made a fool, and the distance that has grown between them by the end of this book sets the scene for the dissention that rips this family apart in the final book of the trilogy, Devil's Brood. Henry, in typical male fashion, is oblivious to the animosity that is gathering in Eleanor's heart. That is one angry mama you don't want to mess with.
It goes without saying that Penman creates characters that convince the reader that she has met each one of the historical people she is writing about. Scenes of 12th century England and France are drawn with such rich detail and accuracy that one would believe Penman has visited the time herself. This novel is wonderfully done and prepares the reader for what I consider the best book in the series. In Devil's Brood, the focus shifts to Henry and Eleanor's children, some of which they may regret begetting.